In America, a single misspoken word can end your career. With the internet’s pervasiveness, an unguarded moment of bigotry can quickly become the top search entry—next to your name. You must watch what you say, do, act, or else, the internet can end your future. In America, the land where many become one, the desire for “political correctness,” the avoidance of terms that marginalize discriminated groups, stifles discussion. For a better future, we must create a culture of respect rather than enforced silence.
First, political correctness functions as a protection for Americans when used correctly. I’ve noted that when people are politically incorrect, they tend to ostracize the “other.” Political correctness should come into play when Americans use words to paint an “Us vs. Them” picture. Politically incorrect words ignore the feelings of minorities and perpetuates an oppressive society. Thus, political correctness makes minorities feel American because they matter as people.
Nevertheless, I will admit that political correctness often stymies its own goals. In 2015, there was a controversy over Instagram filters lightening people’s skin tone. Even if the skin lightening occured, waving words like “politically incorrect” at Instagram’s defenders fuels greater separation between Americans. Excessive political correctness instills a belief that society has cured racism because only minor internet offenses enthrall public attention. Nowadays, due to hyper-awareness of “political correctness,” racism sneaks through the seams of our society because the vigilant public ignores the larger picture.
Stereotypes, at a certain point, are self-perpetuating. When I go to France, I expect to see baguettes. Yet, if the French decided that baguettes humiliated the French identity and stopped eating them, the French would lose a cultural icon. Stereotypes are acceptable so long as they are based on identity, geography, and physical conditions—not the color of one’s skin or one’s culture. Our nitpicking allows true discrimination to ignore the larger, more pressing crises as mere “political correctness” because we confuse acceptable and racist stereotypes. Thus, the fear of “political incorrectness” prevents many from even admitting that racism exists, which risks latent racism striking from beneath a unified facade.
Our last freedom resides in our minds, and people will resist the limiting of their thoughts. Laws and orders cannot change one’s inner beliefs because beliefs are not based on evidence, so even adamant “political correctness” campaigns will ultimately fail. Offensive beliefs cannot be regulated—only willfully changed. Americans are tired of the silence due to “political correctness.” Thus, the solution lies in educating the masses into treating differences with empathy—not mocking the uneducated for their narrow mindedness.
Although combating racial slurs can change how we think, no one will listen to “political correctness” unless a foundation of empathy and respect exists. By discussing race, we can understand why our words hurt. Educators, as authority figures, offer the best opportunity for respectful discourse in the next generation. When we learn what it means to be truly politically correct, to use respectful words, to listen, will we take the next meaningful step towards ending racism. We must rid the taboo of the “politically incorrect” and educate children to be respectful and ask questions. Only by teaching what is correct, how the incorrect affects people, and why it exists through open discourse, can we convince others to become respectful.